First Records of the Javan Plover in Singapore
By Frankie Cheong & Lim Kim Seng
Figure #1: Javan Plover photographed at Pulau Tekong on 16th July 2021. Photo © Frankie Cheong. Note the flesh-coloured long legs, buff breast patch and eyestripe, and white supercilium extending beyond eye.
I (FC) was going for my usual round exploring the reclaimed land on Pulau Tekong on the morning of 16th July 2021. My main reason for going to this area was to follow up on a Pied Stilt Himantopus leucocephalus to get a better look since it is a rare breeding visitor in Singapore only recorded at this location to date.
Upon reaching the area, I heard the call of a Pied Stilt, so I stopped my car and scanned the area. I was not able to find it. However, I did see three waders busy foraging about 20 to 30 m away. I pointed my camera and looked through the view finder to try and see what they were. They are appeared to me to be Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus, a species known to be an uncommon winter visitor and passage migrant in Singapore (Lim 2009; Lim et al. 2020) so I just clicked a few shots for record purposes and continued to search for the stilt.
Once I had downloaded and processed my photographs, one of these plovers were identified as a “Kentish Plover” and subsequently shared online on a Facebook group. I was pleasantly surprised to received messages from Dave Bakewell and James Eaton were both saying that this could be something rarer than Kentish Plover. There was a mad rush to google and messages were flying. Later that day. James Eaton messaged me to confirm that this is a Javan Plover Charadrius javanicus, a species never before seen outside Indonesia and Timor Leste!
He wrote, “the plumage is spot on for Javan (gingery breast sides and ear coverts) but it has a long, sleek appearance with quite long thin bill and very leggy typical of Javan”. I also sent a short report, with my photographs, to the Records Committee of the Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group as this species was not on the official bird checklist for Singapore.
Subsequently, I went back to my archives because I remember seeing the same plovers some time ago at Pulau Tekong. Indeed, I have some badly taken photos on 20th June 2021! There were also three birds, one of which looked like a juvenile. I sent these photos to James Eaton and he concurred that this was a juvenile, which meant that breeding could be taken place for the first time here in Singapore and outside Indonesia and Timor Leste! So, not only was this a new species for Singapore, it was also a new breeding record for Singapore! In addition, this was also a new record for continental Southeast Asia! What a mega tick! The three birds were still there on 2nd August.
If accepted by the Records Committee, these will be the first records, and the first breeding record of the Javan Plover in Singapore, something unprecedented since a similar event when Savanna Nightjar Caprimulgus affinis turned up in 1988 (Lim 2009, Lim et al 2020).
Status and Range of Javan Plover
The Javan Plover is a monotypic resident shorebird found across Java, the Lesser Sundas, southern Sumatra (Lampung) Bangka and Belitung (Iqbal et al. 2013; Iqbal 2015, Eaton et al 2016). The species is locally common at a number of sites it is known from in Indonesia (e.g. Jakarta Bay). The species is essentially endemic to Indonesia and Timor-Leste until the Singapore records. The records from the south-east coast of Sumatra and Belitung are fairly recent (within the last decade) and suggests a northward trajectory of range expansion of the species. The species occurs in a variety of habitats ranging from beaches and shrimp ponds to coastal mudflats and wetlands, occasionally straying into semi-open scrubland. The Singapore records suggest a northward expansion of its range towards continental Southeast Asia, and the species may already be occurring undetected in the Riau Archipelago, e.g. on Bintan (Yong, D.L., Adha Putra, C. in litt.). The Javan Plover is rated as globally Near-Threatened in view of its small and declining range (BirdLife International 2021).
Identification of the Javan Plover
The Javan Plover is a small plover with sandy brown upperparts, white lores, white supercilium extending behind eye and white collar, buff-coloured eyestripe and breast patches. Its bill is long and black and its legs are long and flesh-coloured. Compared to Kentish Plover, it has a bigger head with a less sloping forehead, a slenderer body and distinctly longer legs. The Malaysian Plover Charadrius peroni is similar but is shorter-billed with distinctly mottled upperparts. The Swinhoe’s Plover Charadrius dealbatus can be differentiated from the other two plovers by its head shape (steep forehead), the broad, white supercilium extending almost to the collar, the absence of the dark patch on its lores (giving it a ‘white-faced’ appearance), its shorter bill and legs.
Recommendations for future fieldwork
More fieldwork needs to be conducted in coastal (wetland) habitats around Singapore and its offshore islets as well as southern Peninsular Malaysia and the Riau Archipelago to determine if the Javan Plover has established a presence further northward as the Singapore records would suggest. There are known areas of coastal wetlands used by shorebirds in the northern and western coastline of Bintan (Yong, D.L. in litt.) and these sites should be further surveyed for their shorebird communities.
I would like to thank Dave Bakewell and James Eaton for helpful comments on my photographs on Facebook. Thanks also go to Alan OwYong and Yong Ding Li for the use of his photograph of Kentish Plover and White-faced Plover, as well as input on the species from the region from Yong Ding Li and Chairunas Adha Putra.
Figure #2. Javan Plover photographed at Pulau Tekong on 16th July 2021. Photo © Frankie Cheong.
Figure #3. Javan Plover photographed at Pulau Tekong on 16th July 2021. Photo © Frankie Cheong.
Figure # 4 & 5. Javan Plovers photographed at Pulau Tekong on 20th June 2021. Photos © Frankie Cheong.
Figure # 6 & 7. Javan Plover photographed at Pulau Tekong on 20th June 2021. Photos © Frankie Cheong.
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Charadrius javanicus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 31/07/2021.
Eaton, J.A., van Balen, B., Brickle, N.W. & Rheindt, F.E. (2016). Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago. Greater Sundas and Wallacea. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
Iqbal, M. 2015. Javan Plover Charadrius javanicus on Belitung Island, a new site for Sumatra (Indonesia). Wader Study 122(2): 160–161.
Iqbal, M., Taufiqurrahman, I., Gilfedder, M. & Baskoro, K. 2013. Field identification of Javan Plover Charadrius javanicus. Wader Study Group Bull. 120(2): 96–101.
Lim, K.S. (2009). The avifauna of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore), Singapore.
Lim, K.S., Yong, D.L. & Lim, K.C. (2020). A field guide to the birds of Malaysia and Singapore. John Beaufoy, Oxford.
Figure # 8. Kentish Plover at Marina East on 31st January 2021. Photo © Alan OwYong.
Figure #10. White-faced Plover at Marina Barrage by Yong Ding Li.